April Fools’ Day. Eddie Patterson sacked. Sadly for Eddie this was no joke. After taking over as manager at Solitude in 2005 his reign was over.
News of the dismissal, which followed a home draw with Donegal Celtic, was greeted with surprise around Irish League circles.
Patterson was one of the most respected figures in local football. He had made Cliftonville contenders again.
The Reds won the County Antrim Shield twice, reached the Co-opertative Insurance and Irish Cup finals and with a bigger squad could have claimed not one, but two league titles.
And all the while, they were playing an enterprising brand of football, widely acknowledged as the most entertaining in the country.
Of course there had been hiccups along the way like shock Cup exits and a lack of a championship challenge this season, but over the last six years Eddie had been a success at the north-Belfast club.
At the time of his sacking the Reds released a short statement saying they had “parted company” with Patterson thanking him for his service.
Football being football rumours have abounded since, with suggestions that Patterson had lost the dressing room, although he says: “There have been rumours flying about that my dismissal was down to dressing room unrest, yet after I was sacked the majority of players rang me.
“Obviously one or two didn’t, but any manager will tell you that certain players will always have problems with the boss, especially when they are not in the team.”
Thinking more about the issue, Patterson was honest enough and big enough to admit that he did have regrets about how he handled the last weeks of his time in charge.
“We had a lot of injuries this season and the original plan at the club was to consolidate our position as a top flight club, then the pressure increased when I was told we had to qualify for the top six and then it became a case of getting into Europe,” he said.
“I admit now that my approach could have been handled differently in terms of dealing with the players.
“I was in their faces demanding more from them when maybe I should have been looking at the injuries we had and the fact the players had been going since the start of June.
“Maybe I should have said to the board that it would be wiser sticking with our original goals rather than putting all that pressure on myself and the players.
“The thing is I want to be a winner and I wanted my players to be winners too. What I wanted more than anything was the best for the football club.”
While April 1 was a desperate day for Patterson,there were happier times.
He says: “My first objective when I took over was to make us a top six club and I wanted to do that by getting the team to play in a certain way.
“I have a philosophy on how football should be played and that’s what I worked on at Cliftonville.
“I wanted us to play good football.
“It was also important for me to bring young players through because that’s a necessity these days when money is tight.
“I’m happy that those objectives were achieved and we went beyond them by getting to the Irish Cup final, CIS Cup final, winning the County Antrim Shield twice, competing for the league title and qualifying for Europe.
“My best moments at Cliftonville were winning my first trophy as manager — the County Antrim Shield — and beating Celtic at Solitude in a friendly, because as well as being a big Cliftonville fan I’m a Celtic supporter.
“Another big thing for me was being in charge when Cliftonville won their first tie in Europe.
“We actually won another one as well, so I’m proud to have achieved that feat twice in six years.
“I enjoyed my time as manager and wouldn’t knock the club even though I was gutted to leave. I’ll always be a fan and want to see the Reds do well.”
Many will wish Patterson similar success, though he doesn’t know if he wants to be a manager again.
The Cliftonville experience clearly got to him.
“I got sacked on a Friday and I have to admit I felt really embarrassed going into my day job on Monday morning,” he states.
“When a manager gets sacked there is a stigma attached and initially it made me question my coaching ability.
“I don’t know whether I will ever want to be a manager again, though I do want to be involved in football.
“The last two weeks have been the toughest of my footballing life, but then as people say time is a great healer.”
Eddie Patterson factfile
Managerial career: Cliftonville FC (August 2005 - April 2011).
2005-06: Originally caretaker boss Patterson was officially appointed in October. The Reds came fifth in the league, their highest finish since 1998.
2006-07: After suffering defeat in the CIS Cup final, Cliftonville then lifted the County Antrim Shield. Lost in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup and eventually finished third in the league to qualify for the Intertoto Cup.
2007-08: Cliftonville win in Europe for the first time, beating Dinaburg of Latvia and finish third in the league.
2008-09: The County Antrim Shield was won again, before Irish Cup final defeat to Crusaders.
2009-10: Runners-up in the league.
2010-11: The Reds defeat Cibalia of Croatia in the Europa League, but Patterson is sacked nine months later.